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Canon Vixia HF G20 First Impressions Review$1,099.99
Keeps its winning formula while promising improved low light performance.
When it comes to high-end consumer camcorders, innovation is at a premium. As most display manufacturers gear up to sell 4K to a skeptical public, camcorder manufacturers seem to be biding their time. While Canon's HF G10 certainly holds up very well, the company neglected to offer even a token update in 2012. (Though a small price drop to $1,299.99 was certainly welcome.)
Canon has since gone a miniscule step further, announcing the new HF G20 at CES 2013. With a starting price of just $1,099.99, the G20 includes very few additional features or design changes. Canon is promising that the new model will yield a "20% improvement in low light," but we'll have to reserve judgment on that claim until the camcorder actually arrives in our labs. But really, all Canon has to do is not mess anything up; even if the G20 only matches the G10's performance, it will provide excellent quality at a new low price.
Design & Usability
Canon's flagship has only undergone minor updates.
The Canon HF G20 may look just like the G10 on the outside, but... well... okay it's pretty much the same as the G10 everywhere. Up front, the G20 inherits the same 10x optical zoom lens, with a maximum aperture range of f/1.8-2.8 and a focal range of 4.25-42.5mm. The only real changes of note are to the low light performance, though you'll also find that the pre-record button button has been moved to the LCD panel, and that a custom button and dial are now on the back of the body.
Still not convinced? Well, look at the G10 and G20's spec sheets side-by-side. They're simply identical in every way but two: weight and minimum illumination required. How can you spin such a minor update? You could say that Canon has cut the weight while improving low light performance by around 20%. But when the camera has only dropped 30 grams, and can record at light levels as low as 1.2 lux instead of 1.5 lux, those gains seem far less impressive.
Stagnation in this segment of the market may be indicative of some bigger trends, but the fact is that we're still big fans of the G20's design. It handles very well, it's lightweight, it's comfortable, and it's relatively easy to use. The eyecup is larger and more comfortable than on the G10. The mostly touch-centric control scheme isn't the easiest user interface to navigate, but once you get past the learning curve, the G20 offers everything the G10 did at a new, lower price.
Second verse, same as the first
While the talk of the town at CES 2013 has been 4K, Canon's flagship consumer camcorder is staying put with good old 1080/60i. It's also got the same selection of frame rates and codec options that the G10 came with. The G20 can record in AVCHD or MPEG-4, with AVCHD topping out at 1080/60i and MP4 offering 24p and 30p modes.
The G20 does provide full control over shooting settings, with smart auto, program, shutter-priority, aperture-priority, manual exposure, and a host of scene and specialty modes. Audio is recorded in Dolby Digital 2-channel AC3, which can be monitored with the included headphone jack. External microphones can be attached using the mini advanced accessory shoe and the 3.5mm mic port.
Video can be recorded either to the 32GB of internal flash memory or to one of two SD/SDHC/SDXC card slots. With optical image stabilization, a 922k-dot touch-enabled LCD, and an included electronic viewfinder, the Canon HF G20 looks like quite a bargain at its new $1,099.99 price tag.
Canon's flagship camcorder line feels like it's running on a treadmill—shedding a little weight, but not really going anywhere.
If we're being honest, token updates to cameras and camcorders are fairly common. Add some new feature, tick up the model number, and raise the price. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. The Canon HF G20 is certainly a token update to the company's consumer flagship, but it breaks that mold in one crucial way: a $200 price drop.
With an MSRP of just $1,099.99, the G20 will retail for $400 less than the G10 did at launch. We're certainly in favor of a price drop, but that isn't to say we don't have serious reservations. The G20 does not offer 1080/60p recording or the WiFi functionality that its competition now includes. (We're habitually skeptical about WiFi in cameras, but in camcorders it actually has some pretty interesting implications.)
With the two-year-old G10 still sitting atop our performance charts, we're expecting good things out the G20. Even if it's only a minor improvement over its predecessor, the price drop will likely allow it to keep pace with the other flagships in the consumer sector.